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8/22/2012

Miss Jennifer Goes to Washington

Well, it’s over. And my mind? Blown.

I don’t think I can adequately describe the events of this past weekend in DC, leading up to the Kids' State Dinner at the White House.  It's all a wonderful, swirly blur in my head -- probably like when you get married and you need to see the video so the amazingness of the event really sinks in.

I’ll let these pictures tell the story…

The invite heard 'round the world.

We arrived at the Westin Georgetown on Friday, a few days ahead of time to get the lay of the land. 
Great hotel and staff -- the perfect place to host our families and make them feel special.

Then, the cookbooks arrived.  Look at all those cutiepies!


I swung by The White House to pick up a package for the kids...

A letter from the First Lady welcoming them to DC!

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, groceries were arriving for 54 families so we could give them some healthy snacks.
(Nevermind, Amex fraud alarms set off when they saw I bought $600 worth of goodies in a city I don't live in!)


Ever wonder what a mini-fridge full of milk looks like? (Hint: It's something like this)

Next, it was time to assemble the gift bags.  Sure, award shows might give out diamond sunglasses or trips to Tahiti. 
But do they have snazzy aprons and potholders?  I think not!

Meanwhile, Delta generously flew in families from 54 different states and territories.  For some kids, it was their
first plane trip.  (Hey, that Montana pilot looks a little young, no?)

Goodbye, Hawaii.  This little munchkin had her sights set on DC!

On Sunday, it was time to welcome our Junior Chefs!

This fine southern gentleman from Louisiana brought his grandpa, and some hotsauce and Mardigras beads for us! He writes a great blog
called the Jr. Food Critic, and I hear his fish tacos sure were tasty.

Michigan, meet South Carolina!


North Dakota's ready to whip up a batch of Turkey Vegetable Soup!

Outside the Smithsonian (in the rain) was our social media maven, Siobhan -- her lightning-quick fingers burned through at least 2 batteries posting all the fun to our networks so friends, families, and fans at home could follow along.

Here's Rhode Island with Julia Child, who would have been 100 years old on August 15th. Read more about this on her mom's blog, The Whole Bag of Chips.

While the group was treated to a private tour of the new Julia Child kitchen exhibit...


We got the Westin's Washington Ballroom ready for a pizza party (with veggies and whole wheat crust, of course).
Our People Magazine super chefs from Oklahoma, Texas, and North Carolina.

That's Vermont showing her USA pride!


Californians sure know how to party!

New Jersey, Nebraska, and DC, can I have your autograph?
Arizona, Maryland, and Hawaii wait patiently for the bus on Monday morning.  Did any of us sleep a wink?
Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Vermont are all smiles.

After a quick morning tour of DC, it was time for the Main Event.  Such a good lookin' bunch!
Striking a pose with a handsome young guy from Missouri.

Making our way up the walk.

At the security gate!
Wisconsin has wanted to be a "cooker" since age 3 -- can't wait to try her BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burgers!

We make it inside and are greeted by famous White House photos... of pets!

And kids...

And dances.

Then came our official introductions and the media line.  So proud of these kids!

Here's Montana -- when she's not busy flying planes, she's making her delicious garden chicken pizza!
(Official White House Photo by: Sonya N. Hebert)

Families (including mine!) were able to watch our entrance on the live stream. Here I am, alongside an interview
of our Texas winner. You can watch the full entrance ceremony here.
 
We were escorted upstairs to the Grand Foyer where the Marine Corps band played, "When You Wish Upon a Star."

I'm thinking balloon giraffes aren't commonly seen at State Dinners.  Good thing he's sticking close to Connecticut. 

Willy Wonka himself couldn't have made more colorful, edible decorations.

Next we took photos with the First Lady in the Blue Room.  I don't have a pic of that -- yet -- but I can tell you she wore a stunning blue-green dress and cute blue shoes, she is taller than me (even in heels that made me close to 6ft tall!), and was an extremely warm and gracious hostess.


Next up was the East Room, the largest room in The White House.  That portrait of Martha Washington was painted in 1878.  It also contains their oldest artifact, a painting of George Washington that was rescued from the 1814 fire.

The rustic decor was amazing, from the farmtables to the vegetable centerpieces to the mason jar water glasses. 

We made it!!!


My seat -- and this is the Reagan china (a gorgeous red and gold dish after my own heart).

Behind the scenes, the chefs prepped our healthy meal, cooked in a kitchen no bigger than the stage!
(Official White House Photo by: Sonya N. Hebert)
 
CBS interviews Texas -- the Secret Service inspired his salad recipe and he hopes to be an agent one day.

Next up: Arizona.  This lovely lady has one heck of a handshake -- she's the most poised girl I've ever met!

Maybe one day, she'll be standing behind this podium!

Until then, Tanya will keep it warm.  This contest wouldn't exist without her vision and mission for healthy eating. 
And I have the pleasure of working with her every day!  (She's just as awesome as you think she'd be.)

In addition to co-authoring the book, Portion Size Me, and being a judge of the contest,
this impressive 12 year old got to introduce The First Lady.

The First Lady spoke of the importance of healthy eating, and took time to plan this whole lunch with her staff.  She was worried that the kids might get bored (!?!) so she invited the balloon guy and the band, Big Time Rush. Can you imagine getting that call?
Next, it was time to dig into a few winning recipes.
After munching on New York's crispy kale chips, we were served Arizona's tasty salad of quinoa,
black beans, and corn, with tomatoes, onions, and avocado.
I had an inkling there might be a special guest, since the cameras were supposed to leave after the opening remarks, but were still filming us eating lunch.  I thought it might be the girls.  I was wrong.  (That's my giant noggin on Nightline when they made the announcement.  Virginia, sitting behind me, looks just as surprised!)

Here's the President "crashing" the State Dinner.  He joked with the kids not to drop any food scraps on the floor
because their dog, Bo, was on a diet!

Then, he went around the room, and shook hands.  Every.  Single.  Hand.  Beyond impressive.
Here's a special moment for our winner from North Carolina.
(Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images)
This cable news station showed the President shaking my hand, but my back was to the camera, so it might be me... 
or it could be Cousin It in a blue sweater.  This one's definitely me.

Here's POTUS shaking my colleague Bari's hand.  She may never wash it again!
(Photo: Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images)

Then, it was back to the food.  Kansas' cabbage sloppy joes and North Carolina's baked zucchini fries hit the spot.
 
I'm sure this butler has seen lots of strange things on the floor of The White House. 
A menagerie of balloon animals is probably a new one.
(Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

It was a sweet ending with Hawaii's strawberryanna smoothie and South Dakota's summer fruit garland.

But the cherry on top was a mini-concert by Nickelodeon's Big Time Rush. 
(Pssst... download Windows Down, a catchy little tune, if ever I've heard one!)

A few fans from Alabama, New Mexico, Nevada, Louisiana, Arizona, and Ohio got a front-row seat.
(Official White House Photo by: Sonya N. Hebert)

Look at these Idaho beauties. (Teen Vogue, I think we spotted a new trend -- and your next covergirl!)
(Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg)

After we ate, White House assistant chef (and hottie) Sam Kass took us on a tour of the Kitchen Garden
and stopped for a pic with the lovely ladies from Puerto Rico.
On our way outside, we passed through this room.  I'm not sure what it's called, but isn't it just what you'd imagine a White House sitting room would look like?  I'm told there are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels in The White House. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, 3 elevators.  (And a partridge in a pear tree.)


We strolled by the Rose Garden.  Or maybe it was the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.  Either way, it was
loaded with pretty pink roses.

Even Bo made an appearance, and I'm pretty sure he came over in a limo.

Sam shows Louisiana, Mississippi, and Delaware the pumpkins growing in the garden.

And then shows the guys from North Dakota, Tennessee, New York, and Alaska a giant watermelon.

Even The White House honeybees were busy making honey for our visit.

Your typical woodland creatures: squirrels, birds, deer, rabbits.  And whales!
(Official White House Photo by: Chuck Kennedy)

All in all, a magical, humbling, unforgettable, incredible day.


So there you have it.  Honestly, the weekend couldn't have gone better if it was a Hollywood production.  Plus, nobody went missing (except 1 boy -- briefly -- but we found him!).  And the only tears were happy tears (except 1 girl -- briefly -- but we found her cookbook!).

The media was unlike anything I've ever seen.  Over 1,500 news outlets covered the event.  Washington PostNew York Times. CBSCNNNBCNightlineTime for KidsBloombergUSA TodayDaily NewsThe Late Show.  All of these little people being recognized for all the right reasons makes me smile.

The vast majority of the feedback on our event on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest was overwhelmingly positive too (though a few bad apples did try spoiling the bunch with their negativity). As an American, it’s a true honor to be invited to The White House, regardless of who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office. I feel sad for anyone who can’t separate politics and partisanship from a program that empowers kids and advocates healthy eating.

And that’s coming from the Republican who planned this weekend.

Professionally, it was a career highlight that is unlikely to be matched. Personally, I got tremendous joy from experiencing this through the eyes of these amazing kids. I am totally inspired and feel proud to have met them and their families!

If you'd like to download a copy of the winning recipes, visit our site.  From Apple Aliens to Secret Service Super Salad, you'll find nutritious, tasty, and creative meals for kids of all ages. 

Now, don't be shy -- list YOUR favorite healthy lunch below...


PS: Thanks a TON for helping me decide what to wear.  As you can see, I went with the outfit from The Gap, based on the popular vote.  It doesn't get much more American than that!



tags: food, politics, travel, work

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Incredible!

Chris said...

Jen this is amazing. So so proud of you! My favorite healthy lunch is Oreos. ;)

Jessica said...

AWESOME!! You have an awesome job. What a great opportunity for these young people that you made possible. I know your family must be really proud of you.

Also my favorite healthy lunch is Edamame I could eat them by the bucket.

Anonymous said...

nice photos

Anonymous said...

WOW

Kevin said...

Jen! Holy crap! This is unbelievable! Real proud of you.

Leaf said...

Jen,
You rock, thanks for making this event possible and enduring our emails! I can surely say it was the most mind blowing, wonderful, stunning, shocking, surreal experience of my life. We made history, and it will be a tale told in our family forever! Thank you so very much!!!!!
K

Cathy said...

Thank you Jennifer! This was bar none the most exciting day for Laura and I! We are still just thrilled and soaking in all that happened in that 24 hour period! You folks ROCK! Thank you so much for this amazing experience!!!

Anonymous said...

KUDOS

Sioux Falls Style said...

Jennifer-we had such an amazing time in DC and at the Kids State Dinner! Thank you for all of your hard work making this event possible! Great write up and photos:) Till we meet again,
Jessica and Eva (South Dakota)

Maryland Mom said...

You are so wonderful and we are so thrilled to get a chance to meet you. Thank you so much for everything!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing, inspiring, positive event that we were honored to be a part of. Thank you for helping us through it and making it happen. It was a day that we will forever remember and that Ella describes as "The best day of my life." Be well Andrea & Ella from NH

Anonymous said...

What is this job called? I would like to do this kind of work too. It looks fun.

Anonymous said...

Super recap!

Krissie said...

What a day! You are really great with kids. Maybe you can do this again someday with your own!

Anonymous said...

Nice photos but I cant believe you are a republican. I wouldnt have guessed it. Not too easy to seperate feelings I think.

Epicurious Fan said...

I wanted to share a link to Epicurious with Back to School recipies and taste tests.

http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/everydaycooking/family/backtoschool?intcid=epi_promobar

Apollonia said...

WHAT AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE!!!! So unbelievably cool. I love the look of that menu, especially the tasty avocado salad!

Anonymous said...

Wow!! These lucky kids have a pretty good answer for when the teacher asks what did you do for your summner vacation!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

We are still on Cloud 9 now that school has started it is like reliving this fairy tale all over again. Many many thanks for everything you and your staff did to make this the most memorable day of our lives.